Category Archives: Strategic Outlook

Forecast 2015: Maritime Challenges in the Indian Ocean

Guest Post by Vijay Sakhuja

What could be the trend lines for 2015 in the Indian Ocean? A quick survey of events, incidents and trends in the Indian Ocean during 2014 suggests that the region witnessed cooperation, competition and inclusiveness among the littoral states.

Three baskets could be identified: geopolitical, geostrategic and geo-economic, to help forecast trends in 2015. However, a caveat is in order i.e. these baskets can spring a number of surprises, given that ‘prediction is a risky business’.

IORA: Moving from Australia to Indonesia
In the geopolitical domain, the region remained peaceful and pan-Indian Ocean multilateral organizations such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) were proactive and provided the platform and leadership to address issues of common interest among the partner states. The Perth Communiqué released in September 2014 reinforced the Association’s commitment to ‘building a more stable, secure and prosperous Indian Ocean region’ and promote the IORA’s six priority areas of cooperation. The regional navies met under the IONS banner and addressed a number of common security issues confronting the region.

Later in 2015, the IORA baton will pass from Australia to Indonesia who would continue to carry the great work done by the earlier Chair – India. The new government in Jakarta led by President Joko Widodo has endorsed the importance of maritime matters through the establishment of a new Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs and announced the doctrine of ‘global maritime axis’ (poros maritim dunia). In addition, South Africa, the next Vice Chair of IORA, will prepare to take the leadership role in 2017. These provide ‘continuity and purpose’ to the IORA.

China and the Maritime Silk Road: Increasing footprints in the Indian Ocean
China would continue to make attractive offers to Indian Ocean states and seek support for the MSR. Its forays in the Indian Ocean can potentially sharpen difference between China and India and may even lead to these powers becoming more assertive.

During 2014, the Indian Ocean geostrategic environment, though peaceful, was a bit tenuous. The presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean created unease in New Delhi. Though predicted, it surprised the Indian strategic community and the Indian Navy is beefing up capabilities to respond to the Chinese forays in the Indian Ocean.

India was also ruffled by the Chinese Maritime Silk Road (MSR) initiative and its growing popularity among a number of Indian Ocean states particularly Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives. New Delhi believes that the MSR can potentially help China consolidate its naval / maritime strategy of access and basing in the Indian Ocean in support of PLA Navy’s future operations.

Continuing US Anchor
The US will continue to be the strategic anchor and security provider in the Indian Ocean and its role welcomed by the regional countries to ‘correct security imbalances, challenge the hegemony of any dominant power and ensure regional stability’.

Likewise, the UK decision to permanently position a number of power projection platforms  in the Persian Gulf prompted New Delhi to recall the idea of  Indian Ocean ‘Zone of Peace’ and withdrawal of extra regional naval powers from the Indian Ocean.

2015: End of Piracy, Attractiveness of Drug smuggling and Re-emergence of Maritime Terrorism in the Indian Ocean
One of the important positive developments in the Indian Ocean was the near total suppression of piracy in the Gulf of Aden / Somali coast. It took eight years for the naval forces from nearly two dozen countries including a number of UN Security Council resolutions, to send pirates back home.

However, another ugly face of illegal activities at sea i.e. drug smuggling appears to have caught the attention of the Indian Ocean countries. During 2014, the multinational forces operating in the Indian Ocean intercepted a number of dhows/boats carrying narcotics from South Asia bound for destinations in East Africa. Perhaps what is more disturbing is that east coast of Africa emerged popular among drug smugglers from Colombia. Kenyan President Kenyatta’s initiative to oversee the destruction of a vessel carrying about 370 Kilograms of heroin worth US $ 11.4 million in international market exhibited Indian Ocean countries resolve to counter global trade in narcotics.

The rise of the Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), the new wing of the Al Qaeda, has already raised a new threat whether Pakistan will become a haven for maritime terrorism.

Will 2015 see the idea of “Blue Economy” leaping forward?
The geo-economic environment in the Indian Ocean witnessed the emergence of a new concept ‘Blue Economy’ led by Seychelles and Mauritius. The idea is resonating among a number of Indian Ocean littorals including Australia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, South Africa to name a few. The leaders are committed to the sustainable development of living and non-living marine resources to enhance food and energy security.

Will 2015 ensure better Search and Rescue Coordination?
Perhaps the most traumatic and heartrending events in 2014 were the tragic loss of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 in the southern Indian Ocean, which still remains a mystery, and the more recent loss of Air Asia flight QZ 8501 in the Java Sea. These were stark reminders of the need to develop robust search and rescue (SAR) mechanism in the Indian Ocean. Yet, these incidents exhibited the Indian Ocean countries’ commitment to provide ‘public goods at sea’ and a number of navies deployed their navies for SAR.

Dr Vijay Sakhuja is the Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Maritime Foundation. He can be reached at director.nmf@gmail.com.

This article is courtesy Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi and originally appeared at http://www.ipcs.org/article/china/ipcs-forecast-the-indian-ocean-in-2015-4797.html It is a precis of the larger document of the same name, that is part of the IPCS’s ‘Forecast 2015′ series. Click here to read the full report.

Grail War 2050, Last Stand at Battle Site One

This piece by Dave Shunk is part of our Future Military Fiction Week for the New Year. The week topic was chosen as a prize by one of our Kickstarter supporters.

The nation state had decided not to invest in robotic armies. Autonomous killing machines were beyond their ethics. However, the enemy had no problem building autonomous robotic killing machines.

The enemy robotic land assault caught the nation state by surprise. The enemy forces especially sought to destroy the nation state’s treasure nicknamed “The Grail Project.”  The enemy’s battle plan sought to overcome the human defenders at the various Grail Project sites by overwhelming swarms.

The tactical fight went badly against the solely human forces defending the outlying Grail Project sites. The horde of enemy robotics on land, sea and air were the perfect attrition strategy.  Soul less killers, mass produced, networked together and built cheaply with advanced 3D printers in secret production facilities were deadly.

The nation state had not pursued the robotic armies but went a different route. HAL and Major Wittmann were the first experimental AI/Human team at training site “One” adjacent to one of the remaining Grail Project sites.  They were a prototype weapon – human and AI bonded together as a weapon system team within the tank with a shared neural network. However, this tank was unlike early 21st century tanks. This tank had advanced weapon systems – a tank on technology steroids.

HAL (Human Armor Liaison) is the artificial intelligence (AI) that controls the tank, the weapon systems, and communications. HAL is incorporated and encased into the advanced nanotechnology shell of the tank.  HAL has self repairing armor and neural circuits woven into the structure of the tank.  HAL also monitors the physical and mental health of Lt Wittmann via the neural connection with nanobot sensors throughout his body and bloodstream.

Major Wittmann has twelve years of service. He is a combat veteran, tank commander and human crew of one.  With genetic, physical and mental screening beginning in preschool, Major Wittmann began his military training early. He had the mental and intellectual capability for the nation state’s Human Performance Enhancement program. During his initial military training he received the neural implant for direct communication with advanced computer AIs. He also received nanotechnology enhancements in the form of nanobots in his blood stream to enhance and accelerate his cognitive and physical attributes.

HAL and Major Wittmann had trained as a team for two weeks. Due to the neural implant and nanobots, the bonding program progressed much quicker than human to human bonding. Days of training became the equivalent of months or years of purely human to human bonding. As the first AI/Human armored team they would chart the course for the fight against purely robotic forces. The speed of warfare had overtaken purely human skills due to AI and robotic technology.  At the same time science and technology opened new doors such as AI/human teaming, enhancing both warriors.

Orders came down to protect the Grail Project adjacent to HALS/Major Wittmann’s position at all costs. HAL monitored the battle flow from the network and Major Wittmann correctly anticipated the enemy tactical attack plan.  Within .01 seconds HAL detected the inbound swarm of enemy hypersonic missiles meant for the Grail Project.  HAL countered within .001 seconds by launching a counterstrike of steel flechettes which intercepted, detonated or deflected the inbound hypersonic missiles.  Inside the tank, observing from his 360 degree visual hologram of the battle, Major Wittmann thanked HAL via the neural network for his quick and decisive action to protect the Grail Project and them.

HAL and Major Wittmann knew if the enemy held to his doctrine, the robotic tanks would be next on the scene and attempt to destroy the sole AI/human tank. The twenty enemy robotic tanks announced their arrival by firing their laser cannon main weapons. Within .002 seconds of their firing HAL modified the external nanotechnology armor to disperse the energy along the entire hull and recharge the backup energy grid.

Before the last laser impacted the hull, HAL counter targeted the enemy robotic tanks. HAL fired the multiple barrel railgun and destroyed or severely damaged the robotic force. Fifteen burning hulks remained stationary and would move no more. Five other damaged tanks attempted to retreat. In .003 seconds HAL targeted the five with miniature hypersonic anti-tank missiles turning them into molten scrap. The enemy robotic scout force had been destroyed.

HAL knew they would need reinforcements to defeat the upcoming main robotic assault force. Major Wittmann came up with the “Improvise, Adapt, Overcome” solution.  On the training grounds in an underground warehouse were ten more experimental tanks – with AI’s on board but no human team member.  Due to neural limits Major Wittmann could not directly control another 10 AIs  – but HAL could.

 

Major Hartmann use his command emergency authority to over ride HAL’s protocol and programming limits. These limits stated that HAL could not control other AI tanks – a limit set by the nation state in peacetime.  But this was war and the Grail Project must survive.

HAL reached out to the ten tanks in warehouse by their AI battle network. Within .001 seconds the AIs received the mission, the situation, enemy order of battle, and threats. With the AI’s knowledge of military history, one other AI suggested that they form a laager around the Grail Project .

The Boers, like American wagon trains in the 19th century, formed mobile defensive laagers. The laager consisted of vehicles forming a defensive perimeter in whatever shape needed. The eleven AI tanks and one human formed a formidable interlinked mobile defensive perimeter around the Grail Project.

The battle ended quickly. The massed mobile firepower of the tanks overwhelmed the robotic attack force, but at a high cost. Tanks 1, 3 and 5 suffered catastrophic laser burn through on the armor plating destroying the AIs. Tanks 2, 4 and 8 suffered massive missile hits which destroyed various armaments reducing their offensive effectiveness to near zero.  The burning remains of the robotic army demonstrated they had fallen short of destroying the Grail Project at Site One.  In the classic struggle of over whelming force against determined defense, the combined AI/human teaming had turned the tide.

 

HAL watched the unfolding scene with curiosity as Major Wittmann exited the tank. The Grail Project at Site One had survived without loss. As the doors of the Grail Project opened, Major Wittmann, age 22, reached down and picked up his four year old son and gave a silent prayer of thanks as he held him once more.

 

His son had just been admitted with other select four year olds to the AI/Enhanced Human Performance Military Academy (The Grail Project). Eighteen years ago Major Wittmann had been in the first class of the Grail Project in 2032.

 

Article motivation for Grail War 2050, Last Stand at Battle Site One

The paper is meant as a wakeup that technology is changing warfare in a unique way. The era of human on human war is almost over. With artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics the speed of warfare will increase beyond human ability to react or intervene. The paper presents one possible solution.

 

This idea of human warfare nearing an end was presented in:

Future Warfare and the Decline of Human Decisionmaking by Thomas K. Adams

http://strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/parameters/articles/01winter/adams.pdf

This article was first published in the Winter 2001-02 issue of Parameters.

 

“Warfare has begun to leave “human space.” … In short, the military systems (including weapons) now on the horizon will be too fast, too small, too numerous, and will create an environment too complex for humans to direct. Furthermore, the proliferation of information-based systems will produce a data overload that will make it difficult or impossible for humans to directly intervene in decisionmaking. This is not a consideration for the remote science-fiction future.”

 

Other ideas in the paper:

  • AI/Human teaming and bonding
  • Robotic armies used with attrition strategy against human armies
  • AI controlling other AI vehicles with human oversight
  • Nanotechnology adaptable armor with embedded AI neural links
  • Human neural implants for AI link
  • Human nanobot implants
  • Multi-barrel Rail Gun for armor vehicles
  • Laser weapons for armor vehicles
  • Fletchette weapon as counter missile weapon
  • Hypersonic anti-tank missiles
  • Early military screening for youth (Ender’s Game influence)
  • Early military training for youth (Ender’s Game influence)

 

The second intent of the paper is a tribute to the military science fiction of Keith Laumer and his creation of Bolos – tanks with AI and teamed with military officers. His writings in the 1960s and 1970s were not really about just Bolos but about duty, honor and a tribute to the warriors. I read Last Command in the late sixties and devoured all the Bolo stories.

 

Last Command can be found here: (with preface by David Drake, Vietnam Vet and Author of many military science fiction books)

http://hell.pl/szymon/Baen/The%20best%20of%20Jim%20Baens%20Universe/The%20World%20Turned%20Upside%20Down/0743498747__14.htm

 

Dave Shunk is a retired USAF Colonel, B-52G pilot, and Desert Storm combat veteran whose last military assignment was as the B-2 Vice Wing Commander of the 509th Bomb Wing, Whitman AFB, MO. Currently, he is a researcher/writer and DA civilian working in Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC), Future Warfare Division, Fort Eustis, Virginia.

More Nukes Doesn’t Always Mean Better Deterrence

In a short article recently published by The National Interest, Xunchao Zhang argues that blockade is an effective means for the U.S. Navy to conduct a war against China because of its reliance on oil imports and then proposes that China has two options for countering a blockade strategy: vulnerability-reducing and conflict-avoiding. He dismisses the first because the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) does not have the capacity to escort oil tanker convoys half-way round the world and China’s overland pipelines would be vulnerable to US strikes. Zhang therefore argues that a policy of avoiding conflict with the United States entirely is the only means for China to counteract a US blockade strategy. Key to this, he claims, is strengthening the Chinese nuclear deterrent and renouncing the No-First-Use policy. Only then will the Chinese nuclear deterrent be sufficient to prevent conflict with the United States and avoid a blockade which would likely be crippling. But this argument misses a fundamental point about deterrence and any US use of blockade in a war with China.

Jugular of the economy

Deterrence is about avoiding war. Zhang argues that by strengthening the Chinese nuclear arsenal, the likelihood of war with the United States would decrease, thereby countering the threat of an American blockade. However, the United States is already unlikely to initiate a war, for numerous reasons. What Zhang calls China’s “minimal nuclear deterrent”, the possible world economic consequences, lack of domestic support for such an endeavor, and the historical unwillingness of the United States to be seen as the aggressor all combine to deter the US from attacking China. Any U.S.-China war would be initiated by China, and therefore a strengthening in the Chinese nuclear arsenal, to include abandoning No-First-Use, does not make a compelling case that the likelihood of war with the United States would be decreased. At best it would have no effect, and at worst it would put the Chinese leadership in a position where a stronger nuclear deterrent could simply increase the attractiveness of conducting a conventional war beneath the nuclear umbrella.

 Furthermore, if a conflict-avoiding policy fails, an expanded nuclear arsenal would be useless in stopping the United States from imposing a blockade. Nuclear deterrence operates even in the context of war. It is unlikely that China would turn their nuclear weapons against the United States when under even a crippling blockade because the United States could respond overwhelmingly. A severe economic decline would be difficult to face, but nuclear weapons raining down on Beijing and Shanghai are on an entirely different plane. The incentive to not escalate to the point of nuclear warfare would be significant, and both sides understand this. The United States would have free reign to conduct the blockade without concern of nuclear escalation because of mutual deterrence.

Recent events support this view. In the context of the Ukraine Crisis, the United States has leveraged sanctions against Russia, which has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, without fear of escalation. Another one or 10,000 Russian nuclear weapons would not change the fact that economic disruption is very different from physical destruction. If the possible effects of a blockade are as serious as Zhang argues, a strengthened nuclear deterrent is not the way to counter it.

Zhang is correct, however, to argue that China’s best way to counteract a potential blockade by the U.S. Navy is to avoid war entirely. Oil pipelines from Russia and Kazakhstan are highly vulnerable. Hitting fixed targets with precision weapons is a skill the United States military has very nearly perfected, with strikes this summer in Syria from carrier-based aircraft and Tomahawk-toting surface ships again proving the point. He also correctly assesses the PLA Navy as insufficient to protect its maritime trade routes. It has no experience conducting convoy operations and has limited, if slowly improving, antisubmarine warfare capabilities. Despite the effort expended to deploy a task force off Somalia, China does not have the capacity to support the number and array of forces necessary to defend its trade routes.

Not your grandpa’s U-Boot

Furthermore, the geography of East Asia contains numerous maritime chokepoints, U.S. submarines are fast, quiet, and have incredible endurance, the U.S. surface fleet has decades of experience conducting maritime interdiction in some of the same waters it would blockade, and the United States has the ability to intercept maritime traffic far outside the range of PLAN capabilities, interdicting oil tankers at their source in the Persian Gulf. While Air-Sea battle in the face of A2/AD capabilities requires the development of any number of new weapons systems, the U.S. Navy has the capacity now and for the foreseeable future to cripple the Chinese economy in the event of war, at ranges far outside those of any existing or upcoming A2/AD capabilities. There is no simple panacea for China to overcome the threat of blockade in the event of war, but Zhang does get it right when he says that China’s best option is to avoid conflict entirely.

______________________________________________

Ian Sundstrom is a surface warfare officer in the United States Navy and holds a master’s degree in War Studies from King’s College London. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent those of the United States Department of Defense.

Sea Control from Ashore

The following, written by guest author Niel Kaneshiro, is an abstract from a US Naval War College Directed Research Project of the same name submitted in response to our call for Amphibious Warfare articles. Please direct response articles to nextwar(at)cimsec.org.

The United States faces an increasingly complex security environment in the Indo-Pacific. In the event of a crisis, China’s growing Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) capabilities will allow it to challenge U.S. military access to the region, as well as raise the risks and costs to the U.S. should it intervene on behalf of a regional ally or partner.

By leveraging security treaties and access agreements, the United States can employ ground forces in cooperation with partners to secure maritime choke points and littoral areas, denying their use to an adversary during a crisis or hostilities. These land forces can also create protected areas from A2AD capabilities for combined and joint military operations, ensuring continued access into the region. Furthermore, ground forces can allow naval and air forces to concentrate on operations in areas outside the reach of land based weapon systems. Ground forces can help address the problem of sea control in the Western Pacific in the context of A2AD challenges in several ways. First, ground forces can provide persistent control of choke points and littoral areas using anti-ship missiles, helicopters, and drones. Second, ground forces can conduct maritime intercept operations by employing heliborne troops who can board and capture merchant shipping. Third, ground forces can create protected areas for friendly forces, keeping them clear of adversary air, missile, and surface ship threats.

Ground forces also provide reassurance to allies and partners – indicating U.S. commitment to the region and to its treaty obligations. “Boots on the ground” have significant symbolic and practical importance. For many countries in Asia, the most important military service is their army. Ground forces, specifically the U.S. Army and Marines, can develop important and enduring partnerships with those services, even assisting them with building their own military capability.

U.S. military planners and theorists have proposed strategies and operational concepts that take into account China’s A2AD capability, thus allowing U.S. forces to perform their missions despite an increasingly hostile environment. “Air Sea Battle” (ASB) is an operational concept that proposes to employ closely coordinated air and naval power to defeat A2AD threats. A primary tenet of ASB is the habitual coordination of U.S. Air Force and Navy assets to mount joint attacks on various A2AD systems, which include anti-ship ballistic missiles, over the horizon sensors, long-range bombers, and cruise missile equipped surface ships and submarines while defending U.S. naval forces and bases from attack. The actions inherent in the ASB concept would be one part of a larger strategy to address a crisis. [i]

An alternative to conducting ASB operations is “Offshore Control”, a proposed strategy wherein U.S. forces conduct a “distant blockade” against China, avoiding the A2AD problem by remaining out of the range of ballistic missiles and bombers. Offshore Control emphasizes sea control outside of what China refers to as the “first island chain” – the islands that consist of Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Borneo – with the objective of interdicting China’s maritime commerce. This concept would result in a more protracted conflict that would use largely militarily induced pressure on China’s economy to de-escalate a crisis, and would avoid destabilizing attacks on the Chinese mainland; such attacks could lead to escalation, a serious problem when dealing with a nuclear power.[ii]

Neither of the concepts involves significant use of ground forces. The roles for ground forces typically are limited to supporting activities, mainly the defense of ports and airfields from missile attack. Other U.S. military writings suggest joint forcible entry operations, which could consist of air or amphibious raids and assaults against A2AD capabilities or to seize key terrain.[iii] However, a forcible entry operation in the face of A2AD capabilities and the strength of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is likely a risky and costly proposition. U.S. forces operating in close proximity to the Asian mainland will have to face the same A2AD capabilities that they propose to defeat.

Land power defined is “the ability – by threat, force, or occupation – to gain, sustain, and exploit control over land, resources, and people.”[iv] By extension, land power means the ability to exploit land areas for other purposes. U.S. military thinkers largely conceive of the Pacific as primarily a U.S. Air Force and Navy theatre; however, there are key islands that make land power relevant to any military campaign in the region. The Second World War in the Pacific was fought for and around islands. Geographically important islands became bases for continuing naval operations and served as unsinkable aircraft carriers for long-range bombers.

The geography of the Western Pacific has not changed. Modern missiles, sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and helicopters allow ground forces to project combat power out to sea in a way that was not possible before. American ground combat forces – Army or Marine, have the potential to conduct sea control operations and contribute substantively to an offshore control strategy or an ASB type campaign. In other words, land power can be exploited to gain sea control.

Niel Kaneshiro is a former United States Navy and current United States Army analyst as well as a student of the US Naval War College.

[i] Air-Sea Battle Office, “Air-Sea Battle: Service Collaboration to Address Anti-Access & Area Denial Challenges”, May 2013: 4.

[ii] Hammes, T.X. “Offshore Control: A Proposed Strategy for an Unlikely Conflict”, Institute for National Strategic Studies . June 2012: 4-5.

[iii] U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, “Gaining and Maintaining Access: An Army-Marine Corps Concept”, March 2012: 6.

[iv] U.S. Department of the Army, “ADRP 3-0 – Unified Land Operations” 2012: Glossary-4

With EF21, Marines Struggle to Remain Relevant

This article by Lloyd Freeman is in response to our call for articles on Amphibious Warfare. Also, an editor’s reminder, we DO accept response articles at nextwar(at)cimsec.org.

The Marines are no longer America’s 911 force…and it gets worse: If the Marine Corps continues on its current trajectory of developing unrealistic operational concepts and platforms, it risks becoming irrelevant in light of much more capable U.S. warfighting organizations and platforms. The Marine Corps’ decision to go “all in” on the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and its corresponding failure to embrace new, game-changing technologies and corresponding doctrine and tactics will result in a force that is ill-suited for next-generation warfare and will ultimately become subservient to other, much more capable U.S. military fighting forces.

The Marine Corps Goes It Alone

Over the past few years, the Marine Corps has started down a dangerous path of developing tactically and operationally unsound vision statements that are designed to protect their outlandish and expensive platforms. The Marine Corps recently rolled out their Expeditionary Force 21 (EF21) “vision,” which states that Marines will need to be able to conduct ship-to-shore operations from 65 nautical miles away—an incredible distance for any kind of surface assault. The analysis (or lack thereof….EF21 was developed independent of the U.S. Navy) behind EF21 is the belief that amphibious ships will be susceptible to coastal-defense cruise missiles (CDCMs). Rather than adhere to joint doctrine, for some inexplicable reason the Marine Corps has decided the way around enemy capability is not to neutralize but rather to swim right through it with future high-speed amphibious combat vehicles (ACVs). In light of U.S. technological dominance, this is puzzling. China has dug thousands of miles of tunnels and has constructed massive fuel-storage depots deep underground for a very obvious reason. Our potential adversaries know that if the U.S. military can see it, it can and will kill it. The Marine Corps refuses to accept that the U.S. Navy and the joint force will first set conditions for any possible future amphibious assault in accordance with Joint and Naval Doctrine, which currently allows for the first amphibious assault wave to be launched within 12 nautical miles (or closer)—not 65 nautical miles. Moreover, the Marine Corps does not consider the possible contributions of unmanned systems to future amphibious assaults. There is no need to place a single Marine into harm’s way if an autonomous system can swim onto or fly over the beach and provide the confirmation and subsequent destruction of enemy forces.

A thorough mechanical sweep of objective areas can be conducted with autonomous systems today in preparation for follow-on forces. It’s even possible that follow-on forces may not even be needed in an age of autonomous and unmanned systems. With such technological dominance at our finger tips, why is the Marine Corps still planning for a “Normandy”-type amphibious landing and creating concepts like EF21 that do not adhere to current doctrine and worse, do not attempt to maximize U.S. technological military dominance? The Marine Corps remains fixated on World War II tactics. This drives the procurement of outlandish and expensive platforms such as the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), or worse: platforms that are not even designed to support your operations and/or tactics….and herein lies the problem.

A 5th-Generation Fighter Mistake

Developing suspect doctrine is bad enough, but the Marine Corps’ procurement of platforms that are not designed to support its service-unique tactics and operating procedures only compounds the challenges it faces today. Although the short, take-off, and landing version of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is possibly the best fighter jet ever built, it is not a close-air support platform and was never intended to be. The F-35 is designed for high-end, air supremacy operations during the setting of battlefield conditions that occur long before landing forces ever arrive in theater. Rather than pursuing aviation platforms ideally suited for close-air support, the Marine Corps aviation community hitched its wagon to the JSF program and now stands to join the elite-strike aviation community. However, in the joint arena, it is the job of the Air Force and Naval Aviation to conduct air supremacy operations. Marine Corps Aviation should be focused on supporting ground troops; close-air support has always been the ‘bread and butter’ of Marine Aviation….until now. The JSF 5th generation fighter is designed to penetrate enemy air defenses rather than loiter over a battlefield in support of ground troops. It truly is a difficult to understand how the Joint Staff and Congress approved such an expensive platform for procurement by the Marine Corps.

As a result of procuring a 5th-generation strike fighter, Marine Corps aviation has logically pursued employment options that actually match this new aircraft’s impressive capabilities. Marine aviation is currently focusing on turning the general-purpose amphibious assault ship (LHA) and the Wasp-class multiple-purpose amphibious assault ship (LHD)LHA/LHD amphibious ships into JSF platforms—essentially “light” carriers—which would deploy with up to 16 JSF platforms at the expense of rotary wing and embarked ground forces. Such an employment concept would provide true “bang for the buck” compared to the expensive deployment of the JSFs from the nuclear carrier fleet. However, for the Marine Corps, there is great danger in this path.

The Joint Staff and the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) are continuously challenged with the problems of sustaining and maintaining the current nuclear carrier fleet. The Marine Corps concept of using LHA and LHDs as light carriers would be a very attractive capability for policymakers, essentially creating a new, national strategic strike asset in support of national tasking vice support to Navy and Marine Corps amphibious ready group deployments. The Marine Corps aviation community has led the Marine Corps down a path of short-term gain with probably lethal long-term effects for traditional Navy/Marine Corps expeditionary missions. These are exciting times for Marine Corps aviation—right up to the point where the OSD and the Joint Staff determine that the LHA and LHD fleet would be better utilized deploying with a squadron of F-35B aircraft in support of national tasking vice serving as the central asset of the Marine Expeditionary Units. Marine pilots will love their new relevance as LHDs/LHAs and F-35Bs become national, strategic assets at the expense of the lost relevance of the Marine Corps as an expeditionary service. The Marine Corps infantry community is aware of the danger of the F-35B and winces at how much Marine capital has been consumed over a fighter platform that will probably rarely ever support Marine ground forces; but they have been disunited and fragmented in their opposition to the now powerful, Marine Corps Aviation community.

A Force Out of Touch

Very soon, the only relevant capability in the Marine Corps could be the JSF while the rest of the force is relegated to conducting low-end humanitarian-assistance and disaster-relief missions. In fact, if you look closely at the most recent Marine Corps commercials on TV that is exactly how the Marine Corps is depicted, a force providing disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, not an elite force closing with the enemy. Instead, the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has taken on the higher-end, “911” mission sets that require capable, highly trained warriors and it has been extremely successful. SOCOM’s emergence as the new 911 force has been dramatic. It has led the way in leveraging technology with game-changing tactics to maximize technological dominance while employing a very small footprint. While the venerable USMC drill instructor is yelling at his candidates, the Navy SEAL instructor is quietly instructing his candidates how to put two rounds into the center of a target over and over again with devastating consistency. While young Marine lieutenants are learning how to operate and be comfortable in the fog of war, SOCOM operators have figured out how to lift it by using intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) “orbits” from drones and other platforms to provide clear, battlefield situational awareness through all phases of an operation. While the Marine Corps maintains a training curriculum that lauds the automatic response to orders, SOCOM seeks that rare breed of individual who is smart, in superior condition, and can think his way out of any problem or challenge. In other words, SOCOM wants the guys who don’t need orders.

In a world of game-changing technology, the Marine Corps has decided to keep playing the old, one-dimensional war game of running straight at your enemy yelling and hollering. Conversely, SOCOM has perfected the tactical art of surprise-utilizing stealth where the enemy never hears a sound or sees what hit him. SOCOM’s record, which includes killing the captors of Captain Richard Phillips as well as Osama Bin Laden, is already legendary. It has truly established itself as America’s new 911 force while the United States Marine Corps has been relegated to an outdated force.

The Need for New Doctrine

To be relevant today, the Marine Corps must revise its doctrine. It must outline how it plans to reestablish itself as a tier-one warfighting capability in a new operating environment in which amphibious operations will probably not require Marines to hit the beach in the same way they did over 60 years ago. As discussed earlier, Marine Corps doctrine is noticeably behind the times in leveraging unmanned systems and examining how this game-changing capability can and will be used in any future military campaign. Amphibious and Joint forcible entry doctrine will still be required. However, how we will do amphibious operations in the future probably differs dramatically from how the Marine Corps envisions it in EF-21.

While the Marine Corps continues to pursue costly, high-speed systems (such as JSF and high speed landing craft), it has yet to outline how an amphibious operation could be conducted with unmanned systems. The use of unmanned surface and aerial systems during the first waves of an amphibious assault would most likely dramatically change unit organization and tactics—and save lives. Furthermore, whether Marines want it or not, policymakers and the Joint Staff will probably force unmanned systems into the equation to reduce operational risk. Marines do not need to “hit the beach.” By letting drones conduct the first waves, follow-on Marines can then occupy ‘cleared’ ground and plan for follow-on missions. However, to make such an argument would call into question the wisdom and relevance of current Marine Corps programs such as JSF, which probably explains the silence among Marine Corps leaders when it comes to fostering real change.

Most Marine leaders would acknowledge that we will not fight a future war the same way we fought during World War II or the Korean War, yet they never seem to propose serious efforts to review current doctrine, organization, and what might be needed in light of emerging technologies and capabilities. Publications like EF-21 do not offer new doctrine but instead are repackaging of old strategies that propose the same old requirement for robust platforms that can bring Marines ashore from great distances offshore. Behind the glossy cover page is the same old World War II doctrine of “hitting the beach.”

Start Thinking Joint

The Marine Corps is notorious for ignoring the tremendous assets that are available in the Joint community. Hampering possible change is the Marine Corps’ fixation on the Marine-Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF), a holistic concept that aims to ensure it has an independent ability to logistically sustain a robust ground force with a capable aviation component in an expeditionary environment. The Marine Corps takes great pride in its ability to maintain this organic capability, but this has resulted in a reluctance to think outside Marine-Corps circles. Conversely, SOCOM is probably the most joint organization in the Department of Defense today and their results speak for themselves. SOCOM’s impressive performance reflects the very best capability of joint platforms that comprise its operating forces. Unfortunately, the Marine Corps continues to attempt “going it alone,” which is unfortunate: There are incredible intelligence/surveillance and support platforms that could enable the Marine Corps to conduct higher-end missions along the lines of SOCOM. Joint platforms such as predator drones, the P-3/P-8 Advanced Airborne Sensor, AC-130, or many of the other joint platforms would be much more conducive to supporting Marines on the ground. However, instead of investing in practical platforms ideally suited to supporting ground troops, the Marine Corps inexplicably decided to buy the multi-billion dollar JSF, a platform ill-suited to supporting ground troops.

The Marine Corps probably cannot reverse its commitment to the JSF. However, it can stop constraining itself to its own organic assets and reach out to the joint community to enhance its ground combat capability. The Marine Corps must also begin focusing resources on future platforms that can better support lethal, highly mobile ground forces that can leverage data-centric support platforms—or better yet, start pushing itself to begin operating more jointly during training and deployments as SOCOM presently does. However, to gain access and allocation of high-demand, joint assets, the Joint Staff and senior policymakers will probably want to know how the Marine Corps can contribute in today’s security environment. Focusing on lower-end security missions such as non-combatant evacuation operations and humanitarian assistance are not going to get anyone’s attention.

Change or Become Irrelevant

SOCOM is increasingly creeping into the missions that have historically been the bread and butter of the Marine Corps during peacetime operations. The Marine Corps must assess and revise its current organization from a top-heavy, rigid command structure designed to fight large land campaigns toward a smaller, better trained, highly skilled organization designed to conduct surgical strikes organized around robust ISR and advanced aerial strike assets if it hopes to get in on some of SOCOM’s action. Small high intensity missions will most likely dominate the security environment for decades to come. The Marine Corps could complement the capability of SOCOM by providing a more robust, combat-oriented version of SOCOM. This would of course require much greater cooperation with SOCOM and could affect Marine Corps manpower and training if SOCOM standards are to be met partially or in full. The Marine Corps needs to swallow the bitter pill and recognize that its current World War II organizational structure is outdated, impractical, and increasingly irrelevant on today’s battlefield.

The day of reckoning will come. Eventually, someone will again ask what makes the Marine Corps unique, and the F-35B JSF better not be the answer. The Air Force and Navy will have many more JSF platforms deployable from many more locations. By also failing to adapt ground forces to new tactics and doctrine and by failing to utilize new platforms that can virtually lift the “fog of war,” the Marine Corps is stuck in a time warp. New aspirational concepts such as EF21 that are not grounded in sound analysis and run counter to doctrine make the Marine Corps look even more disconnected and out of touch with modern tactics and technological capabilities. If the Marine Corps does not change and adapt to new technologies and tactics and focus on a clear vision of how it is to operate in the rapidly changing security environment, the future will consist of simply looking good in uniform.

 

Lloyd Freeman is a retired Marine infantry officer.

Future War Fiction Week 30 Dec – 3 Jan: Call for Articles

For New Years, looking into the future through fiction.

Heinlein, Heller, Macdonald Fraser, Clancy, Haldeman, Drake. The list could go on of great military, science, and strategic fiction. Some of those authors had foresight that now takes on the patina of genius, other had an ability to better convey the emotional history of a moment than those that lived it- all of them raised the collective ability of military thinkers and strategists by leaps and bounds. Whether they inspired you to become an officer, or helped you to understand your experience at war, all  of them gave us  part of our intellectual kit.

Johnson Ting: Oct 24, 2014
Johnson Ting: Oct 24, 2014

In the spirit of those great minds, CIMSEC is hosting a Military Fiction week. Maybe you want to write something forward looking that hopes avoid future tragedy or ensure yet to be won victory. Perhaps you seeks to better describe the what if counterfactuals which could have led to a different world. Either way, fiction provides a wider canvas for strategists to paint their minds onto. The only criteria is that you write an original piece of military fiction, it can be historical or futuristic, that seeks to provide other strategic and security thinkers better context of the problems we did, do, or may face.  Short stories of 1000-5000 words are what we are seeking but, who knows, if something turns out to be gold we can turn it into the next Flashman series.

Read, Think, Write- just this time make sure you pull the stories from inside your head.

SEND ARTICLES TO: nextwar(at)cimsec.org
Length: 1000-5000 words, unless you can reasonably justify otherwise.
Due Date: December 26th

Look to the Brits for the Keys to a Successful Offset Strategy

A Geographic Rebalance, Technology, and Diplomacy Must Be Used Together

The challenges of the 2nd decade of the 21st century call for another phase in “strategic asymmetry” in order to preserve the security of the United States’ global strategic interests. The two versions of the successful Cold War Containment strategy; the “New Look” and “Flexible Response” appear on the surface to be completely different approaches. The first advocated reliance on the threat of nuclear war to deter aggressive action by the Soviet Union. The second advanced a graduated series of steps to meet the global Communist threat of which nuclear war was one component and precision-guided munitions one supporting pillar. Both however were committed to deterring nuclear war, maintaining global U.S. strategic interests, and preventing the further spread of the Communist ideology. Each too was relatively well-endowed with financial support from a U.S. government that stood at the military, political, and economic apex of a world otherwise devastated by the effects of two massive global conflicts and associated revolutions and chaos.

Unlike the Cold War period, the present United States cannot exercise the same dominance in all three disciplines of global power. The nation is in a period of relative decline. Many Eurasian nations have recovered from the effects of the conflicts of the 20th century and have assumed positions of global economic, political and in some cases military power. It is a situation similar to the situation challenging the last great liberal democratic power at the dawn of the 20th century.

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British Empire 1903

The present U.S. situation is very similar to that of Great Britain at the end of the 19th century. The British faced many challenges to their economic and maritime supremacy. France recovered from multiple Napoleonic disasters and built a rival colonial empire; Japan emerged from centuries of isolation to compete for dominance of the Western Pacific; Germany and Russia tried to develop “webbed feet” and associated maritime ambitions; and the United States turned its energies from “winning the west” to winning the game of global economic competition. Furthermore, the “moral authority” the British had enjoyed relative to much of the rest of the world had been sullied to a degree by atrocities committed by British forces during the 1899-1901 Boer War against Dutch settlers in South Africa. That conflict also had significant financial costs that competed against those of the Royal Navy (RN), the British nation’s traditional strategic guardian, as well as those of a rising welfare state.

The United States confronts a similar scenario. Its traditional Eurasian allies have recovered from the effects of World War II and the Cold War and are now sometimes economic and political rivals. The Russian state born from the wreckage of the Soviet Union now maneuvers to regain lost territory and advantage. China has emerged as the principal U.S. economic competitor and also has maritime ambitions. The moral authority of the United States is now in question, like post-Boer War Britain, after questionable counter-insurgency conflicts in Southwest Asia and a global internet monitoring effort conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). The wars of the last decade drew money away from efforts to maintain and improve U.S. naval and air forces. The U.S. military also competes with an expanding U.S. welfare state.

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The British Grand Fleet

The British solution to their own period of relative decline (well detailed in Aaron Freidberg’s book The Weary Titan) is best described in three steps. British statesmen and military leaders first examined the strategic geography of the British Empire in detail and made a frank assessment of the relative importance of its physical, economic, political, and military components. They conducted a global reduction and re-balance of British naval and military assets that reflected the updated strategic geographic assessment and their own financial limitations. Finally, the British sought accords (both official and unspoken) with a number of nations to implement the new strategic geography. They came to agreements with the French and the Russians on a series of long-simmering colonial competitions, and they signed an alliance with the Japanese in order to secure their Pacific trade lines and possessions. They also accepted the peaceful rise of the United States, a “daughter” liberal democratic power, to its eventual position of leading economic power by 1914 to buttress their own economic system. The end product was a British Empire and associated armed forces better prepared to confront the changing and more volatile 20th century. Britain survived two devastating world wars and although much of its physical empire and supporting military and naval forces declined, that change was demanded and conducted by the British public under far better circumstances than would have occurred in the wake of a military defeat.

There are of course significant risks involved in such a radical re-balancing of forces. Britain’s physical retreat from the Americas and the Pacific in the face of rising American and Japanese power likely pushed the dominions of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand away from direct British influence. British leaders in the late 1920’s, allowed the strength of the British armed forces, especially the Royal Navy to significantly degrade to the point that Britain could no longer provide an effective defense of its Asian possessions. The loss of Singapore and the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse was the culmination of 25 years of poor strategic planning. It also wrecked British prestige and was a significant tipping point in the drive for Indian independence and the end of the physical British Empire.

The United States should undertake a similar realistic assessment of its global strategic position. Such a review would include not only land and maritime physical spaces, but also air, space and cyberspace “geography” which equally impact U.S. interests. This review must not be confined to mere budgetary and defense program appraisal, but must carefully examine the nation’s long-term interests. It must determine the most significant threats to the republic, and re-balance naval and military forces within budgetary limits to better confront those perils. Those forces must be both suitable for the geographic areas they defend, highly mobile and able to operationally and strategically re-position as circumstances dictate. While the present threat from both national and non-state actors is complex, some positive changes have taken place in recent years. For the first time since 1942, the United States does not face the threat of an immediate ground war other than on the Korean peninsula. The United States however cannot execute overly draconian cuts and still expect to exercise significant global influence. Some balance must be struck between the needs of the expanding U.S. welfare state, and the military forces that guard its very existence.

Finally, the United States should seek solutions to disagreements with nations and/or non-state actors whose intents and actions do not directly threaten U.S. global interest. The United States should also seek close association with present and rising states that share similar interests, since there is no “heir apparent” waiting to support and perhaps supersede the United States in its role as the defender of traditional liberal values as it was for Great Britain. One potential liberal democratic understudy is India, but other candidates may emerge. Although a rising power with aspirations toward greatness, China cannot be considered as a candidate to replace the United States as guarantor and support of the liberal capitalist system that sustains the global economy. Although perhaps no longer a full-fledged communist nation, China remains an authoritarian corporate state that continues to stifle free speech and expression. China, despite a generally warm welcome in the world economic community has instead chosen to bully its economic partners by needlessly antagonizing its neighbors and contributing to rising instability in East Asia.

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US Surface Combatants At Sea

Like Great Britain, the United States can confront challenges to its global interests through an aggressive self-assessment of its strategic goals and means to which they can be accomplished. Unmanned systems, organized in support of traditional manned combat formations in a “Manned and Unmanned” battle concept, offer the United States and Western powers an offensive edge against robust Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) systems. Unmanned systems, however, represent only one component of a greater post-Post Cold War U.S. grand strategy. A technological “offset” alone is insufficient given the expanding threat level that presently confronts U.S. decision-makers. Technological solutions will likely come from civilian industrial sources and be readily duplicated by potential adversaries. Framing the concept of a future grand strategy through unmanned systems, geographic military rebalance, prioritization of threats and movement to accommodate non-threatening, but distracting disputes with others represent the conditions for a successful response to the emerging strategic environment. The United States can still field a capable military force with global reach for a reasonable cost by undertaking such a broad strategic review.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. He posts here at CIMSEC, sailorbob.com and at informationdissemination.org under the pen name of “Lazarus”.